Die Another Day

I have been dreaming, planning, and working for more than two years to get myself to the CPU Nationals this coming February in Calgary and hopeful that I could perhaps earn myself a spot at the IPF Worlds also in Calgary in the summer. There is a definite process involved in getting to Nationals, and I had checked off the final box on the list this past June when I competed at Provincials.

  • achieve a qualifying total within 24 months of Nationals (achieved at Westerns August 2016)
  • compete at a Regional championship (achieved at Westerns August 2016)
  • compete or volunteer at Provincials (achieved June 2017)

The only thing left for me to do was to fill out the registration form when it opened up and hand over my money. To qualify for Worlds, I would need to have an epic performance at Nationals. I knew my odds of qualifying for Worlds would be slim, but I at least wanted the opportunity to try for it.

The 100% RAW competition that I took part in a couple of weeks ago was supposed to be a stepping stone for Nationals. With only two competitions planned for 2017 and the way most of the year ended up being hampered by injury, I was really looking forward to having a good performance in the RAW meet and going into Nationals strong and healthy. The thing about plans is that they don’t always go the way we imagine.

It hasn’t been a secret that I had the amazing competition I was hoping for with RAW and that I walked away having herniated my L5-S1 disc. (Unless you’re my family doctor who doesn’t think I did that kind of damage to myself.) My optimism about competing at Nationals stayed strong for the first day or two after the injury…before I actually knew what the injury was. Once I was told that I had herniated a disc, I had to entertain the thought that Nationals might not be in the cards for me. The fact that my left leg is numb from my butt to the tips of my toes made the severity of my injury quite clear. The fact that I experienced the most excruciating pain for days on end without relief made the severity of my injury quite clear. I can be stubborn at times and I’m not claiming to be super smart, but I am smart enough to see the writing on the wall that my head is banging against. Deep in my heart I knew that Nationals wasn’t going to happen for me this time, but suspecting the truth doesn’t negate the devastating impact of hearing that same truth from someone with the medical knowledge and wisdom to make that call.

And that is what happened this afternoon when I was at my physio appointment. I laid there, face down on the table while the physiotherapist made a pincushion out of my back, wiggling and jiggling the needles to release the muscles. After a bunch of small talk, I began asking the questions that have been burning inside of me. What is the typical recovery timeline for this? Will I be able to compete in February?

The timeline for recovery isn’t much of a timeline at all. There are too many variables. Instead of focusing on a timeline, I need to look for milestones. There are a bunch of steps that I need to make in the process of recovering, like eliminating the leg numbness, being able to do a calf raise, being able to bend forward and touch my toes, being able to raise my leg past a certain point and certainly equal to the other leg, and so on. All that makes sense, even though it would be so much simpler to have a definitive timeline of X number of weeks until I was back to normal. <sigh>

As for competing…highly doubtful. It will be some time before I am even allowed to do weight-bearing exercises. I’m not even allowed to do anything requiring intra-abdominal pressure, which means no squats, and I already knew that deadlifts were out of the question. My gym life has basically been reduced to simple, easy rehab exercises for the lower back. Oh! And I am allowed to walk on the treadmill or elliptical. My dislike for the elliptical machine is intense, but I suppose I can hobble along on the treadmill.

As the physiotherapist gently pointed out (not that I actually needed to be persuaded), the best course of action is not to rush recovery. Rushing could lead to chronic disc problems, and I’d really rather avoid that if possible. As much as I love powerlifting and competing, I also want to live a long and healthy life where I can continue to enjoy doing what I love. I had already guessed that I wouldn’t be able to compete at Nationals, but here it was in the harsh glare of reality. The physiotherapist did say that there could be a small chance, that we’d know better in a couple of months; however, I refuse to even accept that exceedingly slim possibility. A couple of months from now would most likely be after the deadline for registering, and there is no point in registering just to throw that non-refundable money away. Even were I given the green light to compete, with weeks of easy, rehab, body weight exercises, I would be a far cry from ready to compete and certainly not where I would want to be physically. So, there it is…I won’t be going to Nationals in February.

I can accept that this is the right decision, but the rightness of it doesn’t make it sting any less. As the physiotherapist’s words sunk into my heart, I was thankful that I was face-down on the table and could choke back silent tears without the added embarrassment of having them witnessed. I kept the tears at bay for the remainder of my treatment, but I couldn’t keep them from choking me later. It still hurts to let go of a dream, even if it is the right decision to make. Instead of gearing up for Nationals in a few months, I have weeks and months of rehab to look forward to. I have little milestones to achieve rather than PRs on the platform. There can be other Nationals in my future, although I will need to jump through all the hoops all over again to quality. It’s cold comfort in this moment, but it will be fuel to keep me going in the days to come. Taking the time to take care of this injury properly now will only be beneficial to my overall health and well-being. Of course, I’m going to wallow in my self-pity for tonight but only tonight. Tomorrow it is time to get back on track with everything.

 

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Stages of Injury Grief

After yesterday morning’s physio appointment, I noticed that my pain level had dropped a fair bit for most of the day. Good news! However, the pain came roaring back around 1:00 this morning and roused me from my comfortable bed to the living room floor. I did manage to sleep somewhat decently on the floor, although I did need to change my position a few times in an effort to keep the pain low enough to allow for slumber. Just like yesterday morning, the pain was fierce this morning once I woke up for good. The short drive to the gym was pure torture, but I made it.

My gym has two floors of weights and machines. I am used to mostly sticking to the main floor where the squat racks, benches, and deadlift platforms are located, but I won’t be using those things for a while. So, as I hobbled up the stairs to find a piece of floor to do my rehab exercises, I bumped into a regular customer from work.

Customer: How was your competition?

Me: Oh, it was really good! Four Provincial records, 3 National records, 1 World Record, and I herniated a disc.

Customer: Really?!

Me: Yeah! I did very well.

There was a bit more to the conversation, but I find myself amused by this segment of the conversation even now a couple of hours later. Speaking to someone who is familiar yet essentially a stranger (even though I know his name, his wife’s name, and what they both drink at Starbucks), I could lump a herniated disc in with my accomplishments without batting an eyelash. It was just so matter-of-fact. So casual.

And yet yesterday during my physio appointment, I was almost blindsided by tears when I discovered that my left leg doesn’t have enough strength to raise my heel up off the floor. This revelation took me by surprise. How could this be?! Well, it is because I herniated a disc. Yet, it freaks me out, because I am not used to there being a disconnect between my brain and a body part. When I tell my brain that I need to get from point A to point B, my legs walk me to where I need to go. Likewise my arms can move, my hands can type or pick up an object. But when I stand on just my left foot and tell my brain to do a calf raise…there is no response but the smell of smoke from my brain working super hard to send the signal. My left leg betrays me, and that freaks me out.

I am sure that a google search could probably show me a list of the stages of dealing with an injury, but I am not inclined to do such a search at this time. Oh, who am I kidding!

I looked and easily found a list of 5 stages of injury grief!

  1. denial
  2. anger
  3. bargaining
  4. depression
  5. acceptance

Obviously the best stage to be in is the fifth stage of acceptance. Accepting the injury means less stress and physical tension that can delay healing. I think acceptance will result in more progress, and I believe that reaching the acceptance stage will come easier and more quickly should another injury occur.

So where am I on this list of stages? Good question, Angela, but do you have an answer.

Denial? I don’t think I was ever truly in this stage but rather skipped it completely. From the moment I let go of the barbell on my final deadlift, I knew that something was wrong in my body. I felt the pain as I walked off the platform. While I didn’t know what the problem was, I did know that there was an injury of some sort. I hoped it was something simple and minor, but I never doubted the truth once I did get a proper diagnosis.

Anger? Again, I don’t think I lingered in this stage at all. I am not angry that this happened, even though I wish it had never happened. I can feel that way, right? Although this injury seems to have occurred during that final deadlift, the truth is that the competition isn’t to blame. It’s not like I did something wrong and the injury was the result of my error or sloppiness. It just happened. It could have happened the next day while I was getting out of bed or a month from now while lifting a box at work. How can I be angry about a silently ticking time bomb? I had an amazing competition, and I am so proud of myself that I just don’t have room to let anger in. Well, I might feel anger towards my family doctor for being such a jerk.

Bargaining? If ever there was a stage that I’d get stuck in this would likely be it. Back in the days when I still considered myself a runner, I tried bargaining when pain and injury threatened my ability to run. Eventually I had to stop running, but I still tried to bargain my way back to it. I failed in my attempts, and running is no longer a part of my life. I have also tried to bargain my way through other minor injuries with mixed results. I’d like to say that I’ve learned my lesson and will never resort to bargaining again. But I do want to compete at Nationals in February, and this disc herniation could mess that goal up really quickly. I can’t guarantee that I won’t cave in to the desire to bargain down the road, but for now I think I have managed to avoid this stage. I respect the professionals in my corner who want to see me get better, and I am willing to do what it takes to get there.

Depression. This stage is familiar to me, and I know how easily I can slip into its darkness. Pain that doesn’t go away chews away at your peace and happiness until all that is left is more pain but the kind that lurks within. The lack of sleep that often comes from endless physical pain will suck the life right out of you until you are nothing more than a hollow shell. I know this, and I think that I can safely navigate my way through the maze of depression. My sleep has definitely been impacted, and I do have unending pain. When the physiotherapist asked me to describe the pain, I said it was like touching a live wire. I have never touched a live wire, but I’m pretty sure it is an accurate description for what I feel in my butt. Am I in the depression stage? I cannot entirely say no or yes. Maybe? Partly? It depends on the moment?

Acceptance. This is where I think I am. Mostly. Even if my family doctor doesn’t agree, I know that I have herniated my L5 S1. I realize that the road to recovery is going to be long and tedious, but I am willing to do whatever it takes to get through this. I can joke about it, because now I can legitimately say that I have a pain in my ass. My chiropractor has instructed me to ask for help and to avoid bending and lifting. Although it is somewhat humiliating to ask for help at work (because I should be capable of picking up a box), at home I now have a valid reason to motivate my kids to be my slaves. See that? More humour!

While I might be mostly in the acceptance stage in this moment, I do have to acknowledge that grief is not bound by stages or rules or laws. Grief, in all its forms, tends to cycle through stages at random. I might be accepting today, but next week I could be angry or depressed. I could be reduced to bargaining in a month before returning to a state of acceptance. If grief is anything at all, it is unpredictable.

Three!

This is how my mind works…

Several days ago already, I was mentally planning and arranging my time between then and my competition, because time seems to be something I don’t have a lot of right now. Today is day 6 of 7 consecutive work days. Two open shifts. Three closing shifts. Today is 10:30-6:30. Tomorrow is another open shift. I knew that I would need to go to the gym on Monday and Wednesday. Monday wouldn’t be a problem, but Wednesday wasn’t looking appealing with a mid shift sandwiched between a close and an open. I like sleep. I need sleep. I am usually drained by the end of my work week, and I am feeling that way already but I’ve got two shifts to get through yet. When would I be able to get to the gym on Wednesday?

Obviously I had two choices: before work or after work. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t thrilled about either choice. Before work would mean sacrificing some sleep after a late night. Going after work would have me scrambling to train, eat, and unwind before getting myself to bed early enough to get enough sleep prior to waking up at 4:45. As unappealing as my choices were, I knew that I could make each of them work. I could get up early and go. I could survive an open shift on less sleep. I can do all of that and more, but I wasn’t happy about it. I’m in the process of water loading, which means drinking a ton of water and making frequent trips to the bathroom. It feels like I have so much to get done before the competition and no time to do any of it before I finish work early tomorrow afternoon. Excuse my little whiny moment!

In my brain I like to look at all the angles and options and then come up with a plan. My plan usually also has options in case I hit a snag along the way. So, I decided that it would be better to potentially lose a bit of sleep last night in order to get to the gym early this morning. I can function on less sleep than I get, but I definitely do not like having my time crunched together at the end of the night, trying to fit everything into a tight space. I was awake at 7:10 this morning and at the gym ready to train at 8:00. Today’s training was super easy, because I am 3 days from competition. I performed all three lifts: squat, bench press, and deadlifts. At 50% for 3 single reps. Twenty minutes later I was finished without even breaking a sweat. Everything moved well and felt good.

Shortly I will be on my way to work. Hopefully it will be a day that seems to pass quickly, because I definitely feel exhausted and it wasn’t from the gym. But at least now I only need to worry about eating, drinking more water, and unwinding in the 2 hours between finishing work and crawling into bed!

It’s All Coming Back to Me Now

This morning’s training session was short and sweet. Deadlifts were the only thing on the agenda and only two working singles. I had warmed up and completed my pulls within 25 minutes. I’m not sure that I even broke a sweat, but I was stoked by how solid and easy the deadlifts felt. My heaviest pull today was 285 pounds for a single rep, and it felt much easier than last week’s singles at 275. Gym PRs don’t really count for much, but I have never pulled 285 pounds in the gym before. Of course, I’ve pulled more than that in competition…but never in training. Not ever. I am used to having heavyish deadlifts feel almost impossibly difficult in training, which is one reason why I was rarely asked to do them. Oh my goodness! So many of my preconceived notions about my abilities have been shattered these past few weeks, and I find it all exciting and scary at the same time.

With the success of today’s training session added to Tuesday’s, my emotions are being pulled in a dozen different directions. The countdown is on…9 days! I am more excited than words could ever convey. This will be my 9th competition, but the thrill of competing never gets old. I feel poised on the brink of something good. After months and months of pain and struggle and frustration, I am finally feeling good and ready. My body isn’t in a 100% perfect state, but I do think I am in a physically better place than I was going into Provincials, even though I had been feeling pretty good then. Training has been going well. Weights and volume were more than I’ve done before, but my body held up and the weights moved. One of my biggest goals is within reach. I have no reason to think that this competition will be anything but good.

With the dawning confidence comes surges of fear and trepidation. I’m not afraid of failing so much, although I certainly don’t like it when failure happens. But in the moments that I feel the most excited and hopeful, I also feel the most nervous. Some of the fear comes from the fact that I’ve been injured most of the year. Some is simply the natural byproduct of competition and the desire to succeed. I think a big part of the fear is the thought of disappointment. Not my own disappointment, although that is a real possibility, but rather the thought that I might fail and thus disappoint everyone who has been cheering me on. It’s not exactly a rational kind of fear, I know, but it is present and I must acknowledge it.

My coach shared his thoughts with me as to the numbers that he is thinking of for me at this competition. His target is a small increase in my overall best total, and I am good with the numbers that he showed me. They are realistic, reasonable, and still challenging in one way or another. Seeing those numbers allowed me to exhale all the breath I wasn’t even aware I was holding inside. With a new coach, an online coach who is still learning me, I didn’t know what numbers he might pull out of his hat. I’ve been so focused on simply getting and staying healthy and my one big goal that I haven’t thought much about too much else. Yet somehow, now I am relieved to know that my coach isn’t projecting a huge jump between my previous best and what I will do in 9 days. My husband likes to joke that he won’t be satisfied unless I deadlift 350 pounds. While that may be possible one day, I am glad that my coach isn’t looking for me to add 40+ pounds to my best lifts after the year that I’ve had. It settles the nerves a bit to know, although the sense of expectation is still high.

This is a roller-coaster of emotions that I have ridden before. I’ve got this.

Believer

The excitement that I felt yesterday had evaporated during the night. I went to the gym feeling focused and determined but tempered. I went through the motions of warming up, adding weight to the bar in the slow and gradual process that is so familiar and comforting. Although things were feeling okay, fear began to creep around the edges like the beginning of frost on a window. It wasn’t paralyzing fear, nor was it the kind of fear that gnaws away at your stomach. This was just hesitation, that soft voice which questions your sanity and safety like a conscience. There was no doubt that I would make the attempt. The real question was would I overcome my aversion to asking for help to ask a complete stranger to give me a spot. Did I need a spot? Could I get by without one? Who could I ask? The muscley guy with his head in his phone? The toothpick of an older lady doing leg raises on a mat? The jacked dude all the way on the opposite side of the gym a mile away? Or the young woman quarter squatting while wearing gloves? I’ve seen too many videos and live examples of people who do not know what they are doing in the gym…the last thing I need when squatting heavy weight is a spotter who doesn’t know what he/she is doing. I hemmed and hawed but ultimately caved. In my indecision I had paced around and wound up near a piece of equipment that was currently unused. The glove-wearing, quarter squatting lady approached to ask if I was using that equipment, so I asked if she knew how to spot a squat. She said she did. After watching the video of my squat, I’m not so convinced, but I survived my squat.

You might not know it to have seen me in the gym following that squat or to see me now, but that squat was huge for me. In the 4 years that I have been competing in powerlifting, I have only squatted this much weight 3 times and all in competition. I have never had this much weight on my back for an actual squat in the gym EVER. I have never squatted this much weight without wearing knee sleeves. I have not had this much weight on my back since Western Canadians in August 2016. Okay, so maybe a smile just split my face!

1a. squats

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6, 135 x 4, 165 x 3, with belt 185 x 3, 205 x 2, 215 x 1

main event: 225 lbs x 1, 245 lbs x 1

Undoubtedly some of today’s squats weren’t very pretty or perfect, but they still managed to feel decently good. And although 245 pounds felt like it moved slowly, I am still happy with how it really did move and feel. There is more there, I know it. I feel it.

2. bench press

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 65 x 6, 85 x 4, 100 x 2

main event: 115 x 1, 115 x 1

Easy peasy.

3. chest supported rows 8-10 reps

40 lbs x 10, 40 lbs x 10

For the first time, I maxed out my reps here. Of course, both the weight and a set were dropped, but I’m still going to feel good about how good these felt.

With competition in 11 days, the volume is dropping significantly. Physically I am not feeling too fatigued yet, but I’m still glad for the drop.

T-Minus 2 Weeks

I should think that by this time (3pm) two weeks from now my competition will be finished, and I either have been successful in achieving my goals or not. Perhaps I should nail down what my goals are first, but I haven’t given much thought to the idea which is rather unlike me. I am the maker of lists, the planner, the one who doesn’t even go to the mall without mapping the whole process out in her head first. How many times have I competed now? 8 times! When have I competed without specific goals? Never, although the nature of the goals may have been quite different depending on the situation going into each competition. For my first competition, I didn’t know what to expect or what I could be capable of. I really just wanted to not embarrass myself by bombing out. For this year’s Provincials, after months of dealing with injury, I wanted to break through my bench press ceiling and simply do the best that I could in the other lifts. At one of last year’s competitions, I wanted to break a World record in the deadlift. I’ve had goals to break Provincial records, to break my own National records, to deadlift double my body weight or more than 300 pounds, to bench more than 100 pounds, to go 9 for 9. Some of those goals have been achieved, while others have not. Every time I succeeded or came up short, I learned something about myself, about competing. I even learned things about goals.

In many ways I am driven by my goals, but my success and self-worth cannot come from them. I look at a goal as something to work toward, to strive for, to focus on, but the goal isn’t the ultimate prize, the final destination. The goal is a stepping stone. A moment to savour and treasure and remember but never a place to remain. Sometimes my goals feel rather lofty for an ordinary middle-aged woman like me, but that doesn’t stop me. I have learned that even if you fall short of a goal, the act of striving and working to get as far as you did is often just as rewarding and important as actually achieving it. A goal should challenge you. Some goals should be small and easily attained, but you have to have those big ones that tease you along and make you look on them with wonder. So, I’ll think about my goals and what I hope to accomplish in two weeks. There is a big goal. It’s definitely big but not so big as to be unattainable. I know it is within me…so long as the body stays healthy! I am still desperate to break through my bench press ceiling. A 9 for 9 competition would be sweet; I’ve only ever had one of those. Making it through the competition without hurting myself would be nice, as would redeeming my disappointing performance at Provincials. Reclaiming a couple of National records and breaking a couple of my National records would be nice. That’s about as specific as I’m going to get with my goals right now.

1. competition bench press

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 65 x 6, 85 x 5, 100 x 3, 110 x 2, 120 x 1

main event: 130 lbs x 1, 130 x 1, 130 x 1, 130 x 1, 130 x 1

I’ve never done so many singles at 130 pounds before, but these moved well, smooth and solid. I wore wrist wraps for all my bench sets today.

2. squat (3-0x0)

warm up: 45 lbs x 6, 95 x 5, 135 x 4, 165 x 3, with belt 185 x 1

main event: 200 lbs x 1, 200 x 1, 200 x 1

These also felt smooth and solid today. Last week, I did triples at 185 that felt heavy and cumbersome. 200 pounds felt so much lighter today.

3. long pause bench (3-3×0)

105 lbs x 2, 105 x 2, 105 x 2

Easy peasy.

4. side planks

x 25 seconds each side, x 22 seconds each side

Two weeks! Ack! I am so excited! Ugh. I really should wear my singlet at least once or twice to the gym next week. Ugh. I hope it still fits…

21 days…

Competition is 3 weeks from today! I am excited and eager to see what I can do, but I’m not putting much energy into dwelling on what may or may not transpire. At least not yet. Most of my focus has been on making it through each training session and keeping my back healthy. Some training days feel easy. Others feel tough. As the weights, reps and sets have increased, I’ve felt apprehension and fear, because I am training harder than ever before. As far as what is happening in the gym, the hard work is paying off.

1. competition bench (2-1×0) 2-3 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 8, 75 x 6, 95 x 3, 105 x 3, 115 x 2

main event: 125 lbs x 3, 125 x 3, 125 x 3, 125 x 3, 125 x 3

All of my sets were done with an arch today! My training times rarely coincide with my husband’s availability to train, but our schedules lined up today. I wanted him to assist with hand-offs and to spot me for the working sets…because I was a little nervous about the weight for reps for multiple sets. Honestly, I figured I could probably get 2 reps but wasn’t confident about 3, not for all 5 sets; however, I desired hand-off help because the heavier weight is harder to unrack by myself without expending too much energy or putting me out of position.

As I finished the third rep on the first set, my husband said, “Easy!” I racked the bar and said, “That was easy!” By the third set, my husband was asking why I needed his help. Every set was easy!

2. squat (3-0x0) 3 reps

warm up: 45 lbs x 5, 95 x 5, 135 x 4, 165 x 3

main event, with belt: 185 lbs x 3, 185 x 3, 185 x 3

The warm ups felt easy and strong, but the first working set was quite the opposite. The second and third sets were better.

3. long pause bench (3-3×0) 3 reps

95 lbs x 3, 95 x 3, 95 x 3

Super easy!

4. side planks

x 25 seconds each side, x 20 seconds each side